First noted are the reactions. With the mega bout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao decimated by trivialities, both fighters have turned away from each other to exert their dominance elsewhere. It took almost no time for Bob Arum to step in and ostensibly brush over the disappointment by placing Welterweight contender Joshua Clottey in Mayweather’s stead. While Arum has undoubtedly overstated the attractiveness of the substitute bout, it is compelling enough to draw interest.
Pacquiao should not be chastised for cutting the stalemate with Mayweather short. After all, the dissolution of the super bout didn’t see him off to graze leisurely in a field of lighter weights. Instead, he chose a solid challenger. And this challenger has a formidable hunger to succeed at the highest level. He won’t likely take this opportunity for granted.
Joshua Clottey presents a different kind of opposition than what Pacquiao has faced. It is crucial not to consider him as merely the vanquished of the vanquished. True, the chain exists: Clottey lost to Miguel Cotto who lost to Pacquiao. But Clottey’s loss was controversial, and to many eyes he had actually won the fight. Obviously, the controversy in this case helps to legitimize the contest with Pacquiao. It is the ultimate adage in boxing that styles make fights. The two styles that will meet in Texas on March 13th could potentially make for an interesting contrast.
Classifying the style of Clottey is somewhat challenging. He is mindful of defense, utilizing a high guard; but his style isn’t exactly defense driven. He can punch powerfully and effectively in combination; but his style isn’t exactly offense driven either. What he does exhibit is his own individual arsenal of skills. It’s an arsenal that can be effective, but is mostly so when Clottey remains focused, and when he does not allow himself to be rattled by his opponent’s tactics. When he retains composure, he has proven the quality of his style, and it has recommended him to contender status.
Traditionally, the biggest stages have not brought the greatest rewards for Clottey. At times, it has seemed to be the result of sheer misfortune. He lost a title shot to Antonio Margarito in a frustrating 12 round decision in Atlantic City in 2006. Reportedly he had broken his hand during the bout, an injury that would obviously have impeded his punch output. It left him to be stalked down by Margarito. It is worth mention, though, that Clottey fought Margarito at a time when others were not so eager to get into the ring with him. This was prior to the notorious hand wraps incident, back when the power of Margarito’s punches was assumed to be granted by nature alone. Whether modified at the time or not, Margarito was not able to dispose of the opponent who was lessened by a busted hand.
Clottey was coming off of a five fight winning streak when he met Miguel Cotto in the ring in New York last June. In this outing, his technique was tedious to watch. The performance was in large part due to his perceptible loss of focus. He spent the evening stifled behind his high guard. He held his arms in front of his face in a manner so unrelenting, it seemed like he must have been obstructing his own vision. Good defense is traditionally a strong attribute, but that’s only true when the defensive actions are fluid and interchangeable. Literally walling up the body as a means of protecting it limits the capability to initiate attacks. It interferes with the response to the timing and rhythm of the opponent. It interrupts effective exchange. “Hit and don’t be hit” may be the mantra on unbloodied lips, but a defense that forces an overly conservative punch output will generate a poor figure on scorecards.
In the fight against Cotto, Clottey’s offense was essentially pared down to sporadic bursts of activity. He spent much precious time enshrined behind the safety of his arms, and he seemed to become the victim of his own pent up energy. He would punch aggressively in combination, often lunging forward as he did so. At times, he became awkward and was thrown off balance. Still, these bursts were met with some success, because Cotto was moving forward in a relatively straight line. But Clottey’s unyielding preoccupation with protecting himself cut these successful onslaughts short, and he ceded points to Cotto. Clottey was disappointed with the result, and he wasn’t alone.
For Clottey, what will happen in Texas on March 13th probably comes as an uncommonly pleasant surprise. Part of Clottey’s determination to beat Cotto was doubtlessly fueled by a potential match up with Pacquiao. When he lost that fight, he most likely saw the opportunity evaporating in front of his eyes. Circumstances shifted across the boxing landscape, and now Clottey sees his chance coming around again.
What will the bout actually look like? In the best case scenario, Clottey will retain composure and will not allow a repeat performance of the one against Cotto. There are certain things he simply must not do if he wants a chance at a decisive victory over Pacquiao. He needs to be prepared for Pacquiao’s spectacular and peculiar choreography. Not simply for the obvious reason that any fighter prepares for his opponent’s style, but because he needs to be mentally prepared for it. Pacquiao will address him with a rate of speed unfamiliar to him. The punches will not only come at rapid pace, but also with power and at unforeseeable angles. This is Pacquiao’s magic, and it is very difficult to dispel. Most of Pacquiao’s opponents of late have looked like they’re shadowboxing some menacing spirit. They cannot target the cause, but are nonetheless left to react to bruises on their faces and dents in their sides. Pacquiao’s “invisible man” type of style will be the ultimate test of Clottey’s constitution. If he can retain his composure during this fight, he has kicked the bad habit.
Clottey will have to do away with the reliance on his unrelenting guard. This guard is inflexible, and Pacquiao will quickly find a way around it. He will dig beneath the elbows and attack the body. He is sharp enough to throw jabs and straight hands right between the gloves. If Clottey doesn’t use his guard wisely and sparingly, he will give away points in every round. He has to fight Pacquiao. And it’s not difficult to draw him into a fight. He enjoys active combat. Clottey should use his size and strength as a combined advantage and come forward. The chances of hurting Pacquiao increase with the level of activity. He certainly cannot be harmed by a man encased in a shell.
In the end, even if Clottey does not emerge victorious, he can still increase his reputation by putting on a proud display commensurate with his abilities. That alone would set him apart from the pack. If it is Pacquiao who does as is widely expected, and wins the fight, he will have yet another gleaming jewel to add to his crown. But when the excitement subsides, the issue of greeting the stalemate with Mayweather will inevitably arise. And again will come the exposure to petty wars waged outside of the battle grounds, where the possibility for a decisive clash is dissolved day by day in wasted energies.